Winner of the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel, Minyan is both bittersweet and hilarious in a way that hurts to laugh. It is the tale of Norbert Wilner, a man who has mastered the art of arrested development who, at 37, is still single and living in New York City, surrounded by the Jewish guys he grew up with in Jersey. They are all searching for God, women, and most of all, a good pastrami-on-rye with spicy brown mustard, a side of potato salad and a cream soda.
Bernstein is a Hindu, Greenblatt's a Sufi, Weissbaum worships Willie Mays, and nobody likes Finkelstein, the big-shot lawyer and born-again Christian. And Freddy Lipschitz has just died. As these middle-aged men gather to mourn their childhood friend, they begin to take stock—and make shtick—of their failed relationships, missed opportunities, questionable careers, and the underlying sense of dread that pervades their existence. For despite growing up in the seemingly carefree atmosphere of America in the 1950s, Norbert and his friends still find themselves living in the long shadow of the Holocaust. Fearful children of nervous Jewish mothers, they were instructed to be wary of everything and everyone; to lock the doors, wear earmuffs, and marry Jewish girls.
“Who knew, at age 12, that there could be a direct link between little Mary-Anne Hamilton and Hitler? But there was. The innocent Sunday school cross around her neck may as well have been a swastika, to anyone who had survived the war, as my mother did. I saw a cute girl in pigtails; my mother saw Hitler Youth, saw ovens and smoke and her dead grandmother.”
A chance meeting with the eccentric Reb Miltie helps Norbert begin to find salvation through the humor, teachings and melodies of the Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, as well as through the camaraderie of his life-long friends as they passionately pursue meaning, marriage, and the healing properties of brisket. Minyan celebrates the endurance of adult men completely baffled by the affairs of the adult world, and the healing power of laughter, tears and friendship.